The subject of wifely submission in marriage is simple in some ways and complex in others. Two big reasons for the complexity are that every marriage relationship is multi-faceted and every marriage is different. Every husband and wife relate to each other in their unique ways. They bring their pasts into their relationship. Then they have their own ways of communicating and behaving as a couple. They build a history of interactions that are theirs and theirs alone.
But that does not mean that there are not some things about submission that could be said generally. And hopefully simply. At least that is what I am going to try to do below. The following article attempts to compress some main ideas about submission in a straightforward way. It could serve as a tool for those who are still trying to understand submission or be a helpful prompt to submission for others. It is the why, when, where, and how of wifely submission in brief form. The (to) whom is obvious, so I left that out. Let’s go!
Why submit to your husband?
Because as a Christian, a wife who loves God desires to obey Him in all things. Submission in marriage is just one more of the many commands in Scripture that she is convicted by. By the grace of God, this conviction is unignorable. With the help of God, she lives it. As sinners, no wife can walk in submission perfectly. We know that, and can keep that in mind when talking about how hard it can be sometimes. But according to the Scriptures, wives are called to submit to their own husbands. It is a wife’s responsibility before God. (Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 3:18-19, Titus 2:3-5, 1 Peter 3:1-7)
When to submit?
In everything. (Ephesians 5:24) EXCEPT, never against the word of God. A godly wife does not follow her husband into sin or sin by his command. (see Are Wives Really to Submit in Everything?) I like Charles Hodge’s words here about the extent of a wife’s submission: “The wife is not subject as to some things, and independent as to others, but she is subject as to all. This of course does not mean that the authority of the husband is unlimited. It teaches its extent, not its degree. It extends over all departments, but is limited in all.” A Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians by Charles Hodge. To carry on from his thought, I’ll add: it is limited because God is the ultimate and absolute authority, not husbands. (1 Chronicles 29:11-12, Psalms 47:2, Psalms 103:19, Colossians 2:9-10)
Everywhere. At home. At church. At the supermarket. At her friend’s house. At the in-laws. Online. In the bedroom. When she is with her husband. When she is alone. Etc.… Location does not determine the scope of a wife’s submission, her husband does. Be prepared to walk in your submission to your husband no matter where you are.
In every way that matters to your husband. This will vary a lot from couple to couple. As mentioned above, every marriage is unique. Communication is key. So, learn what matters to (and I cannot stress this enough) your husband, not social media or other couples, and adjust accordingly. He may only expect a few things like a final say in big matters, or he might want to see your submission and his leadership permeate every aspect of your relationship. I have noticed that couples who are mutually intentional about their roles tend to create a strong and harmonious bond. God’s design for roles was not made for nothing. He knows us, He knows what is best for us, and He knows what we need.
Below are a few suggestions for what you might talk to your husband about concerning submission, so you can learn more about what matters to him. Read it yourself, or if appropriate, share it with your husband. It could serve to make communicating about these things easier. If you do share it, pick a good time and break it up into more than one discussion if necessary. Also, be aware that what matters to him might change over time.
If you do not already know, discussing the following should help reveal your husband’s thoughts and attitudes about headship and submission. I find it more common that men don’t see these roles as good or hesitate to lead versus the caricature that all men would be abusive control freaks if they had the lead in a marriage. Maybe I can write about what to do in cases like that in another article.
Here are the suggestions:
🌸 An important topic to discuss is decision making. If your husband is to his lead, find out how he would like to handle decision making. Which ones does he care to manage? Some things he may gladly delegate to you. When he does make a decision, make it easier for him to make the next one by being supportive. If he is reluctant to make decisions, as some husbands are, you may get frustrated. Many wives experience this and then tend to angrily take the lead again. Try to resist that and any berating. Instead, pray, wait, and consistently respond well to any decisions he does make. His decision making will likely grow as he sees your consistent positive response. If he is a Christian and won’t lead, you may want to seek counsel at your local church. They might be able to help you and him figure out what is holding him back and lead him in a biblical direction.
🌸 Talk about how discussions around his decisions and other things will be handled. How much input from a wife is sought or welcomed may vary from husband to husband and situation to situation. Many husbands highly value their wives’ input and opinions. That’s wonderful and wise. My husband comes to me often for mine. But the hard truth is, there might be times when your husband does not need or want your input. Or he may simply want you to be quiet. Another thing relating to this is what is the acceptable way for you to share your point of view or feelings about something. Surely it should be done respectfully, but he may also prefer you to state them only once. And then follow him in whatever comes next.
These things can be hard, trust me. I know. Still working on them myself sometimes. Knowing what to expect up front can help things go more smoothly. If things like these do come up, wives can really benefit from trusting God’s ways and His plans for them. My hope is that your husband has your best interest in mind and that he will want discussions to go well and always intend to make good decisions. If not, and your attempts to talk to him about it have not gone well, it may be time for outside counsel.
🌸 If your husband is a Christian, does he desire or is he willing to lead in spiritual matters? Would he lead in Bible study and prayer? Would he like to know which Chrisitan authors or speakers you are exposed to if any, so that he can assess them for biblical soundness?
🌸 Is he interested in any details concerning domestic matters like cooking, cleaning, and decorating? Are there any outcomes he would like to see? I know it is often said that the home is the wife’s domain, but when a wife submits in everything, the home may rightly be considered her husband’s domain. That seems more appropriate given their relationship, but it can take some rewiring in a woman’s brain. Many women have innate desires to make their home just a certain way! This is not a bad thing, but a submissive wife would be open to her husband’s authority over their home. Husbands shouldn’t need man caves to escape to when they have a whole castle. Again, the extent of this can differ from couple to couple.
🌸 Talk about money matters. Which money matters does he care about enough to want to manage with his leadership? It might be anything extra, unexpected, or over a certain dollar amount. Some wives do all the budgeting and bill paying for the household. This does not make her un-submissive if this is her husband’s preference. It could be a huge blessing timewise to him, and he may see that she has more of a gift for finances.
🌸 If you do not already know, discover if he has any preferences for the way you dress and wear your hair, makeup, and jewelry. Your submission and your respect can be reflected in your attire.
🌸 I am guessing you already know what attitudes he prefers and doesn’t. Work to have the ones he likes!
🌸 Does he prefer a certain tone of voice or demeanor? Some husbands prefer to see that quiet and gentle spirt (1 Peter 3:4) come out in tone and conduct. How you carry yourself in his presence can go a long way in showing your submission and by extension your respect. (Ephesians 5:33)
🌸 Would he enjoy a special greeting or to be addressed in a certain way that emphasizes your submission and his leadership? A simple example would be calling your husband “Sir”. Some men like these. Others don’t. It can be a good reminder for both spouses throughout the day, if it suits your marital chemistry and your personalities.
🌸 Do you have habits that annoy him? If he directs you to stop, stop.
🌸 Run your schedule by him, if he so desires. Let him know that, as much as reasonably possible, his wants and needs will be priorities when it comes to how you spend your time.
🌸 Is he willing or does he wish to work with you regarding your submission? Will he give you feedback in an up-building way on how you are doing? Will he pray with you, discuss things with you, offer corrections or directions, and spend time reviewing God’s word again as needed? It can be extremely helpful for wives to receive ongoing feedback and support about their behavior. It makes sense that it would flow naturally out of a husband’s leadership to offer them. Be sure to receive them with grace!
But of course, this can work both ways. A wife could also give her husband respectful feedback as to how she sees his leadership progressing. If he is a Christian, Ephesians 5:25-33 would be critical for his role. When a husband lives these verses and lives with his wife in an understanding way – that she is the weaker vessel – and honors her as a fellow heir of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7), he takes his responsibility before God seriously. I cannot stress enough how much this can affect a wife for good. Strong, consistent, intentional, godly submission follows strong, consistent, intentional, godly leadership. Inconsistency or hypocrisy in a husband’s walk can weaken a wife’s walk. Though regardless – her responsibility before God to walk as she has been commanded remains.
Ongoing communication about these things is so important. Ideally, this would help result in mutual growth in sanctification between two believers who want to live as God has commanded. That is good, no, it is great! A marriage like that would have the potential to bear much good fruit to the glory of God.
These suggestions hopefully provide a good place to start your walk in submission or help you do so more fully. If there is anyway you can connect with another wife or wives who strive to live according to God’s design for marriage, I recommend doing so. The comradery and encouragement from Titus 2:3-5 types of relationships or even between wives in the same stages of marriage and experience can be a huge help.
One more thing, in case you are not already married…
Marry well! For many reasons, but also so that you may get to live out your role as a wife in obedience to God in a good and healthy relationship – with a godly man.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.” (Ephesians 5:25-33)
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